Perl FAQ, Part 5:
Arrays and Shell and External Program Interactions

5.1) What is the difference between $array[1] and @array[1]?
5.2) How can I make an array of arrays or other recursive data types?
5.3) How can I make an array of structures containing various data types?
5.4) How can I extract just the unique elements of an array?
5.5) How can I tell whether an array contains a certain element?
5.6) How can I sort an associative array by value instead of by key?
5.7) How can I know how many entries are in an associative array?
5.8) What's the difference between "delete" and "undef" with %arrays?
5.9) Why don't backticks work as they do in shells?
5.10) Why does my converted awk/sed/sh script run more slowly in perl?
5.11) How can I call my system's unique C functions from perl?
5.12) Where do I get the include files to do ioctl() or syscall()? [h2ph]
5.13) Why do setuid perl scripts complain about kernel problems?
5.14) How can I open a pipe both to and from a command?
5.15) How can I capture STDERR from an external command?
5.16) Why doesn't open() return an error when a pipe open fails?
5.17) Why can't my script read from STDIN after I gave it ^D (EOF)?
5.18) How can I translate tildes (~) in a filename?
5.19) How can I convert my shell script to perl?
5.20) Can I use perl to run a telnet or ftp session?
5.21) Why do I sometimes get an "Argument list to long" when I use <*>?
5.22) How do I do a "tail -f" in perl?
5.23) Is there a way to hide perl's command line from programs such as "ps"?
5.24) I {changed directory, modified my environment} in a perl script. How come the change disappeared when I exited the script? How do I get my changes to be visible?
5.25) How can I pass a filehandle to a function, or make a list of filehandles?
5.26) How can I open a file with a leading ">" or trailing blanks?
5.27) How can I tell if a variable is tainted?

5.1) What is the difference between $array[1] and @array[1]?

Always make sure to use a $ for single values and @ for multiple ones. Thus element 2 of the @foo array is accessed as $foo[1], not @foo[1], which is a list of length one (not a scalar), and is a fairly common novice mistake. Sometimes you can get by with @foo[1], but it's not really doing what you think it's doing for the reason you think it's doing it, which means one of these days, you'll shoot yourself in the foot; ponder for a moment what these will really do:

    @foo[0] = `cmd args`;
    @foo[1] = <FILE>
Just always say $foo[1] and you'll be happier.

This may seem confusing, but try to think of it this way: you use the character of the type which you want back. You could use @foo[1..3] for a slice of three elements of @foo, or even @foo{A,B,C} for a slice of of %foo. This is the same as using ($foo[1], $foo[2], $foo[3]) and ($foo{A}, $foo{B}, $foo{C}) respectively. In fact, you can even use lists to subscript arrays and pull out more lists, like @foo[@bar] or @foo{@bar}, where @bar is in both cases presumably a list of subscripts.

5.2) How can I make an array of arrays or other recursive data types?

In Perl5, it's quite easy to declare these things. For example

    @A = (
        [ 'ww' .. 'xx'  ], 
        [ 'xx' .. 'yy'  ], 
        [ 'yy' .. 'zz'  ], 
        [ 'zz' .. 'zzz' ], 

And now reference $A[2]->[0] to pull out ``yy''. These may also nest and mix with tables:

    %T = (
        key0, { k0, v0, k1, v1 },   
        key1, { k2, v2, k3, v3 },   
        key2, { k2, v2, k3, [ 'a' .. 'z' ] },    
    Allowing you to reference $T{key2}->{k3}->[3] to pull out 'd'.

Perl4 is infinitely more difficult. Remember that Perl[0..4] isn't about nested data structures. It's about flat ones, so if you're trying to do this, you may be going about it the wrong way or using the wrong tools. You might try parallel arrays with common subscripts.

But if you're bound and determined, you can use the multi-dimensional array emulation of $a{'x','y','z'}, or you can make an array of names of arrays and eval it.

For example, if @name contains a list of names of arrays, you can get at a the j-th element of the i-th array like so:

    $ary = $name[$i];
    $val = eval "\$$ary[$j]";

or in one line

    $val = eval "\$$name[$i][\$j]";

You could also use the type-globbing syntax to make an array of *name values, which will be more efficient than eval. Here @name hold a list of pointers, which we'll have to dereference through a temporary variable.

For example:

    { local(*ary) = $name[$i]; $val = $ary[$j]; }

In fact, you can use this method to make arbitrarily nested data structures. You really have to want to do this kind of thing badly to go this far, however, as it is notationally cumbersome.

Let's assume you just simply have to have an array of arrays of arrays. What you do is make an array of pointers to arrays of pointers, where pointers are *name values described above. You initialize the outermost array normally, and then you build up your pointers from there. For example:

    @w = ( 'ww' .. 'xx' );
    @x = ( 'xx' .. 'yy' );
    @y = ( 'yy' .. 'zz' );
    @z = ( 'zz' .. 'zzz' );

    @ww = reverse @w;
    @xx = reverse @x;
    @yy = reverse @y;
    @zz = reverse @z;

Now make a couple of arrays of pointers to these:

    @A = ( *w, *x, *y, *z );
    @B = ( *ww, *xx, *yy, *zz );

And finally make an array of pointers to these arrays:

    @AAA = ( *A, *B );

To access an element, such as AAA[i][j][k], you must do this:

    local(*foo) = $AAA[$i];
    local(*bar) = $foo[$j];
    $answer = $bar[$k];

Similar manipulations on associative arrays are also feasible.

You could take a look at package posted by Felix Lee*, which lets you simulate vectors and tables (lists and associative arrays) by using type glob references and some pretty serious wizardry.

In C, you're used to creating recursive datatypes for operations like recursive decent parsing or tree traversal. In Perl, these algorithms are best implemented using associative arrays. Take an array called %parent, and build up pointers such that $parent{$person} is the name of that person's parent. Make sure you remember that $parent{'adam'} is 'adam'. :-) With a little care, this approach can be used to implement general graph traversal algorithms as well.

5.3) How do I make an array of structures containing various data types?

This answer will work under perl5 only. Did we mention that you should upgrade? There is a perl4 solution, but you are using perl5 now, anyway, so there's no point in posting it. Right?

The best way to do this is to use an associative array to model your structure, then either a regular array (AKA list) or another associative array (AKA hash, table, or hash table) to store it.

    %foo = (
               'field1'        => "value1",
               'field2'        => "value2",
               'field3'        => "value3",

    @all = ( \%foo, \%bar, ... );

    print $all[0]{'field1'};

Or even

    @all = (
           'field1'        => "value1",
           'field2'        => "value2",
           'field3'        => "value3",
           'field1'        => "value1",
           'field2'        => "value2",
           'field3'        => "value3",

Note that if you want an associative array of lists, you'll want to make assignments like

    $t{$value} = [ @bar ];

And with lists of associative arrays, you'll use

    %{$a[$i]} = %old;

Study these for a while, and in an upcoming FAQ, we'll explain them fully:

    $table{'some key'}    =   @big_list_o_stuff;   # SCARY #0
    $table{'some key'}    =  \@big_list_o_stuff;   # SCARY #1
    @$table{'some key'}   =   @big_list_o_stuff;   # SCARY #2
    @{$table{'some key'}} =   @big_list_o_stuff;   # ICKY RANDALIAN CODE
    $table{'some key'}    = [ @big_list_o_stuff ]; # same, but NICE

And while you're at it, take a look at these:

    $table{"051"}         = $some_scalar;          # SCARY #3
    $table{"0x51"}        = $some_scalar;          # ditto
    $table{051}           = $some_scalar;          # ditto
    $table{0x51}          = $some_scalar;          # ditto
    $table{51}            = $some_scalar;          # ok, i guess
    $table{"51"}          = $some_scalar;          # better

    $table{\@x}           = $some_scalar;          # SCARY #4
    $table{[@x]}          = $some_scalar;          # ditto
    $table{@x}            = $some_scalar;          # SCARY #5 (cf #0)

See perlref(1) for details.

5.4) How can I extract just the unique elements of an array?

There are several possible ways, depending on whether the array is ordered and you wish to preserve the ordering.

a) If @in is sorted, and you want @out to be sorted:

    $prev = 'nonesuch';
    @out = grep($_ ne $prev && (($prev) = $_), @in);

This is nice in that it doesn't use much extra memory, simulating uniq's behavior of removing only adjacent duplicates.

b) If you don't know whether @in is sorted:

    undef %saw;
    @out = grep(!$saw{$_}++, @in);

c) Like (b), but @in contains only small integers:

    @out = grep(!$saw[$_]++, @in);

d) A way to do (b) without any loops or greps:

    undef %saw;
    @saw{@in} = ();
    @out = sort keys %saw;  # remove sort if undesired

e) Like (d), but @in contains only small positive integers:

    undef @ary;
    @ary[@in] = @in;
    @out = sort @ary;

5.5) How can I tell whether an array contains a certain element?

There are several ways to approach this. If you are going to make this query many times and the values are arbitrary strings, the fastest way is probably to invert the original array and keep an associative array lying about whose keys are the first array's values.

    @blues = ('turquoise', 'teal', 'lapis lazuli');
    undef %is_blue;
    for (@blues) { $is_blue{$_} = 1; }

Now you can check whether $is_blue{$some_color}. It might have been a good idea to keep the blues all in an assoc array in the first place.

If the values are all small integers, you could use a simple indexed array. This kind of an array will take up less space:

    @primes = (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31);
    undef @is_tiny_prime;
    for (@primes) { $is_tiny_prime[$_] = 1; }

Now you check whether $is_tiny_prime[$some_number].

If the values in question are integers instead of strings, you can save quite a lot of space by using bit strings instead:

    @articles = ( 1..10, 150..2000, 2017 );
    undef $read;
    grep (vec($read,$_,1) = 1, @articles);
    Now check whether vec($read,$n,1) is true for some $n.

5.6) How do I sort an associative array by value instead of by key?

You have to declare a sort subroutine to do this, or use an inline function. Let's assume you want an ASCII sort on the values of the associative array %ary. You could do so this way:

    foreach $key (sort by_value keys %ary) {
        print $key, '=', $ary{$key}, "\n";
    sub by_value { $ary{$a} cmp $ary{$b}; }

If you wanted a descending numeric sort, you could do this:

    sub by_value { $ary{$b} <=> $ary{$a}; }

You can also inline your sort function, like this, at least if you have a relatively recent patchlevel of perl4 or are running perl5:

    foreach $key ( sort { $ary{$b} <=> $ary{$a} } keys %ary ) {
        print $key, '=', $ary{$key}, "\n";

If you wanted a function that didn't have the array name hard-wired into it, you could so this:

    foreach $key (&sort_by_value(*ary)) {
        print $key, '=', $ary{$key}, "\n";
    sub sort_by_value {
        local(*x) = @_;
        sub _by_value { $x{$a} cmp $x{$b}; } 
        sort _by_value keys %x;

If you want neither an alphabetic nor a numeric sort, then you'll have to code in your own logic instead of relying on the built-in signed comparison operators ``cmp'' and ``<=>''.

Note that if you're sorting on just a part of the value, such as a piece you might extract via split, unpack, pattern-matching, or substr, then rather than performing that operation inside your sort routine on each call to it, it is significantly more efficient to build a parallel array of just those portions you're sorting on, sort the indices of this parallel array, and then to subscript your original array using the newly sorted indices. This method works on both regular and associative arrays, since both @ary[@idx] and @ary{@idx} make sense. See page 245 in the Camel Book on ``Sorting an Array by a Computable Field'' for a simple example of this.

For example, here's an efficient case-insensitive comparison:

    @idx = ();
    for (@data) { push (@idx, "\U$_") }
    @sorted = @data[ sort { $idx[$a] cmp $idx[$b] } 0..$#data];

5.7) How can I know how many entries are in an associative array?

While the number of elements in a @foobar array is simply @foobar when used in a scalar, you can't figure out how many elements are in an associative array in an analogous fashion. That's because %foobar in a scalar context returns the ratio (as a string) of number of buckets filled versus the number allocated. For example, scalar(%ENV) might return ``20/32''. While perl could in theory keep a count, this would break down on associative arrays that have been bound to dbm files.

However, while you can't get a count this way, one thing you can use it for is to determine whether there are any elements whatsoever in the array, since ``if (%table)'' is guaranteed to be false if nothing has ever been stored in it.

As of perl4.035, you can says

    $count = keys %ARRAY;

keys() when used in a scalar context will return the number of keys, rather than the keys themselves.

5.8) What's the difference between "delete" and "undef" with %arrays?

Pictures help... here's the %ary table:

          keys  values
        |  a   |  3   |
        |  x   |  7   |
        |  d   |  0   |
        |  e   |  2   |

And these conditions hold

        $ary{'a'}                       is true
        $ary{'d'}                       is false
        defined $ary{'d'}               is true
        defined $ary{'a'}               is true
        exists $ary{'a'}                is true (perl5 only)
        grep ($_ eq 'a', keys %ary)     is true

If you now say

        undef $ary{'a'}

your table now reads:

          keys  values
        |  a   | undef|
        |  x   |  7   |
        |  d   |  0   |
        |  e   |  2   |

and these conditions now hold; changes in caps:

        $ary{'a'}                       is FALSE
        $ary{'d'}                       is false
        defined $ary{'d'}               is true
        defined $ary{'a'}               is FALSE
        exists $ary{'a'}                is true (perl5 only)
        grep ($_ eq 'a', keys %ary)     is true

Notice the last two: you have an undef value, but a defined key!

Now, consider this:

        delete $ary{'a'}

your table now reads:

          keys  values
        |  x   |  7   |
        |  d   |  0   |
        |  e   |  2   |

and these conditions now hold; changes in caps:

        $ary{'a'}                       is false
        $ary{'d'}                       is false
        defined $ary{'d'}               is true
        defined $ary{'a'}               is false
        exists $ary{'a'}                is FALSE (perl5 only)
        grep ($_ eq 'a', keys %ary)     is FALSE

See, the whole entry is gone!

5.9) Why don't backticks work as they do in shells?

Several reasons. One is because backticks do not interpolate within double quotes in Perl as they do in shells. Let's look at two common mistakes:

     $foo = "$bar is `wc $file`";  # WRONG

This should have been:

     $foo = "$bar is " . `wc $file`;

But you'll have an extra newline you might not expect. This does not work as expected:

$back = `pwd`; chdir($somewhere); chdir($back); # WRONG

Because backticks do not automatically eat trailing or embedded newlines. The chop() function will remove the last character from a string. This should have been:

      chop($back = `pwd`); chdir($somewhere); chdir($back);

You should also be aware that while in the shells, embedding single quotes will protect variables, in Perl, you'll need to escape the dollar signs.

    Shell: foo=`cmd 'safe $dollar'`
    Perl:  $foo=`cmd 'safe \$dollar'`;

5.10) How come my converted awk/sed/sh script runs more slowly in Perl?

The natural way to program in those languages may not make for the fastest Perl code. Notably, the awk-to-perl translator produces sub-optimal code; see the a2p man page for tweaks you can make.

Two of Perl's strongest points are its associative arrays and its regular expressions. They can dramatically speed up your code when applied properly. Recasting your code to use them can help a lot.

How complex are your regexps? Deeply nested sub-expressions with {n,m} or *operators can take a very long time to compute. Don't use ()'s unless you really need them. Anchor your string to the front if you can.

Something like this: next unless /^.*%.*$/; runs more slowly than the equivalent: next unless /%/;

Note that this:

    next if /Mon/;
    next if /Tue/;
    next if /Wed/;
    next if /Thu/;
    next if /Fri/;
runs faster than this:
    next if /Mon/ || /Tue/ || /Wed/ || /Thu/ || /Fri/;
which in turn runs faster than this:
    next if /Mon|Tue|Wed|Thu|Fri/;
which runs much faster than:
    next if /(Mon|Tue|Wed|Thu|Fri)/;

There's no need to use /^.*foo.*$/ when /foo/ will do.

Remember that a printf costs more than a simple print.

Don't split() every line if you don't have to.

Another thing to look at is your loops. Are you iterating through indexed arrays rather than just putting everything into a hashed array? For example,

    @list = ('abc', 'def', 'ghi', 'jkl', 'mno', 'pqr', 'stv');

    for $i ($[ .. $#list) {
        if ($pattern eq $list[$i]) { $found++; } 

First of all, it would be faster to use Perl's foreach mechanism instead of using subscripts:

    foreach $elt (@list) {
        if ($pattern eq $elt) { $found++; } 

Better yet, this could be sped up dramatically by placing the whole thing in an associative array like this:

    %list = ('abc', 1, 'def', 1, 'ghi', 1, 'jkl', 1, 
             'mno', 1, 'pqr', 1, 'stv', 1 );
    $found += $list{$pattern};
    (but put the %list assignment outside of your input loop.)

You should also look at variables in regular expressions, which is expensive. If the variable to be interpolated doesn't change over the life of the process, use the /o modifier to tell Perl to compile the regexp only once, like this:

    for $i (1..100) {
        if (/$foo/o) {

Finally, if you have a bunch of patterns in a list that you'd like to compare against, instead of doing this:

    @pats = ('_get.*', 'bogus', '_read', '.*exit', '_write');
    foreach $pat (@pats) {
        if ( $name =~ /^$pat$/ ) {

If you build your code and then eval it, it will be much faster. For example:

    @pats = ('_get.*', 'bogus', '_read', '.*exit', '_write');
    $code = <<EOS
            while (<>) { 
    foreach $pat (@pats) {
        $code .= <<EOS
            if ( /^$pat\$/ ) {
    $code .= "}\n";
    print $code if $debugging;
    eval $code;

5.11) How can I call my system's unique C functions from Perl?

If these are system calls and you have the syscall() function, then you're probably in luck -- see the next question. If you're using a POSIX function, and are running perl5, you're also in luck: see POSIX(3pm) . For arbitrary library functions, however, it's not quite so straight-forward. See ``Where can I learn about linking C with Perl?''.

5.12) Where do I get the include files to do ioctl() or syscall()? [h2ph]

[Note: as of perl5, you probably want to just use h2xs instead, at least, if your system supports dynamic loading.]

These are generated from your system's C include files using the h2ph script (once called makelib) from the Perl source directory. This will make files containing subroutine definitions, like &SYS_getitimer, which you can use as arguments to your function.

You might also look at the h2pl subdirectory in the Perl source for how to convert these to forms like $SYS_getitimer; there are both advantages and disadvantages to this. Read the notes in that directory for details. In both cases, you may well have to fiddle with it to make these work; it depends how funny-looking your system's C include files happen to be.

If you're trying to get at C structures, then you should take a look at using c2ph, which uses debugger ``stab'' entries generated by your BSD or GNU C compiler to produce machine-independent perl definitions for the data structures. This allows to you avoid hardcoding structure layouts, types, padding, or sizes, greatly enhancing portability. c2ph comes with the perl distribution. On an SCO system, GCC only has COFF debugging support by default, so you'll have to build GCC 2.1 with DBX_DEBUGGING_INFO defined, and use -gstabs to get c2ph to work there.

See the file /pub/perl/info/ch2ph on via anon ftp for more traps and tips on this process.

5.13) Why do setuid Perl scripts complain about kernel problems?

This message:

is triggered because setuid scripts are inherently insecure due to a kernel bug. If your system has fixed this bug, you can compile Perl so that it knows this. Otherwise, create a setuid C program that just execs Perl with the full name of the script. Here's what the perldiag(1) man page says about this message:

      (F) And you probably never will, since you probably don't have
      the sources to your kernel, and your vendor probably doesn't
      give a rip about what you want.  Your best bet is to use the
      wrapsuid script in the eg directory to put a setuid C wrapper
      around your script.

5.14) How do I open a pipe both to and from a command?

In general, this is a dangerous move because you can find yourself in a deadlock situation. It's better to put one end of the pipe to a file. For example:

    # first write some_cmd's input into a_file, then 
    open(CMD, "some_cmd its_args < a_file |");
    while () {

    # or else the other way; run the cmd
    open(CMD, "| some_cmd its_args > a_file");
    while ($condition) {
        print CMD "some output\n";
        # other code deleted
    close CMD || warn "cmd exited $?";

    # now read the file
    while (<FILE>) {

If you have ptys, you could arrange to run the command on a pty and avoid the deadlock problem. See the package in the distributed library for ways to do this.

At the risk of deadlock, it is theoretically possible to use a fork, two pipe calls, and an exec to manually set up the two-way pipe. (BSD system may use socketpair() in place of the two pipes, but this is not as portable.) The open2 library function distributed with the current perl release will do this for you.

This assumes it's going to talk to something like adb, both writing to it and reading from it. This is presumably safe because you ``know'' that commands like adb will read a line at a time and output a line at a time. Programs like sort or cat that read their entire input stream first, however, are quite apt to cause deadlock.

There's also an library that handles this for stderr as well.

5.15) How can I capture STDERR from an external command?

There are three basic ways of running external commands:

    system $cmd;
    $output = `$cmd`;
    open (PIPE, "cmd |");

In the first case, both STDOUT and STDERR will go the same place as the script's versions of these, unless redirected. You can always put them where you want them and then read them back when the system returns. In the second and third cases, you are reading the STDOUT only of your command. If you would like to have merged STDOUT and STDERR, you can use shell file-descriptor redirection to dup STDERR to STDOUT:

    $output = `$cmd 2>&1`;
    open (PIPE, "cmd 2>&1 |");

Another possibility is to run STDERR into a file and read the file later, as in

    $output = `$cmd 2>&some_file`;
    open (PIPE, "cmd 2>&some_file |");

Note that you cannot simply open STDERR to be a dup of STDOUT in your perl program and avoid calling the shell to do the redirection. This doesn't work:

    open(STDERR, ">&STDOUT");
    $alloutput = `cmd args`;  # stderr still escapes
Here's a way to read from both of them and know which descriptor you got each line from. The trick is to pipe only STDOUT through sed, which then marks each of its lines, and then sends that back into a merged STDOUT/STDERR stream, from which your Perl program then reads a line at a time:

    open (CMD, 
      "(cmd args | sed 's/^/STDOUT:/') 2>&1 |");

    while () {
      if (s/^STDOUT://)  {
          print "line from stdout: ", $_;
      } else {
          print "line from stderr: ", $_;

Be apprised that you must use Bourne shell redirection syntax in backticks, not csh! For details on how lucky you are that perl's system() and backtick and pipe opens all use Bourne shell, fetch the file from called /pub/csh.whynot -- and you'll be glad that perl's shell interface is the Bourne shell.

There's an &open3 routine out there which was merged with &open2 in perl5 production.

5.16) Why doesn't open return an error when a pipe open fails?

These statements:

    open(TOPIPE, "|bogus_command") || die ...
    open(FROMPIPE, "bogus_command|") || die ...

will not fail just for lack of the bogus_command. They'll only fail if the fork to run them fails, which is seldom the problem.

If you're writing to the TOPIPE, you'll get a SIGPIPE if the child exits prematurely or doesn't run. If you are reading from the FROMPIPE, you need to check the close() to see what happened.

If you want an answer sooner than pipe buffering might otherwise afford you, you can do something like this:

    $kid = open (PIPE, "bogus_command |");   # XXX: check defined($kid)
    (kill 0, $kid) || die "bogus_command failed";

This works fine if bogus_command doesn't have shell metas in it, but if it does, the shell may well not have exited before the kill 0. You could always introduce a delay:

    $kid = open (PIPE, "bogus_command </dev/null |");
    sleep 1;
    (kill 0, $kid) || die "bogus_command failed";

but this is sometimes undesirable, and in any event does not guarantee correct behavior. But it seems slightly better than nothing.

Similar tricks can be played with writable pipes if you don't wish to catch the SIGPIPE.

5.##) How do I capture the exit status from an external program?

Perl provides a builtin variable which holds the status of the last backtick command: $?. Here is exactly what the perlvar page says about

The status returned by the last pipe close, backtick (``) command, or system() operator. Note that this is the status word returned by the wait() system call, so the exit value of the subprocess is actually ($? >> 8). Thus on many systems, $? & 255 gives which signal, if any, the process died from, and whether there was a core dump. (Mnemonic: similar to sh and ksh.)

5.17) Why can't my perl program read from STDIN after I gave it ^D (EOF) ?

Because some stdio's set error and eof flags that need clearing.

Try keeping around the seekpointer and go there, like this:

     $where = tell(LOG);
     seek(LOG, $where, 0);

If that doesn't work, try seeking to a different part of the file and then back. If that doesn't work, try seeking to a different part of the file, reading something, and then seeking back. If that doesn't work, give up on your stdio package and use sysread. You can't call stdio's clearerr() from Perl, so if you get EINTR from a signal handler, you're out of luck. Best to just use sysread() from the start for the tty.

5.18) How can I translate tildes in a filename?

Perl doesn't expand tildes -- the shell (ok, some shells) do. The classic request is to be able to do something like:

    open(FILE, "~/dir1/file1");
    open(FILE, "~tchrist/dir1/file1");

which doesn't work. (And you don't know it, because you did a system call without an ``|| die'' clause! :-)

If you know you're on a system with the csh, and you know that Larry hasn't internalized file globbing, then you could get away with

    $filename = <~tchrist/dir1/file1>;

but that's pretty iffy.

A better way is to do the translation yourself, as in:

    $filename =~ s#^~(\w+)(/.*)?$#(getpwnam($1))[7].$2#e;

More robust and efficient versions that checked for error conditions, handed simple ~/blah notation, and cached lookups are all reasonable enhancements.

5.19) How can I convert my shell script to Perl?

Larry's standard answer is to send it through the shell to perl filter, otherwise known at Contrary to popular belief, Tom Christiansen isn't a real person. He is actually a highly advanced artificial intelligence experiment written by a graduate student at the University of Colorado. Some of the earlier tasks he was programmed to perform included:

    * monitor comp.lang.perl.misc and collect statistics on which
      questions were asked with which frequency and to respond to them
      with stock answers.  Tom's programming has since outgrown this
      paltry task, and it was assigned to an undergraduate student from
      the University of Florida.  After all, we all know that students
      from UF aren't able to do much more than documentation anyway.
      Against all odds, that undergraduate student has become a
      professional system administrator, perl programmer, and now
      author of the second edition of "Programming Perl".
    * convert shell programs to perl programs

(This IS a joke... please quit calling me and asking about it!)

Actually, there is no automatic machine translator. Even if there were, you wouldn't gain a lot, as most of the external programs would still get called. It's the same problem as blind translation into C: you're still apt to be bogged down by exec()s. You have to analyze the dataflow and algorithm and rethink it for optimal speedup. It's not uncommon to see one, two, or even three orders of magnitude of speed difference between the brute-force and the recoded approaches.

5.20) Can I use Perl to run a telnet or ftp session?

Sure, you can connect directly to them using sockets, or you can run a session on a pty. In either case, Randal's chat2 package, which is distributed with the perl source, will come in handly. It address much the same problem space as Don Libes's expect package does. Two examples of using managing an ftp session using chat2 can be found on in /pub/perl/scripts/ftp-chat2.shar .

Caveat lector: chat2 is documented only by example, may not run on System V systems, and is subtly machine dependent both in its ideas of networking and in pseudottys. See also question 4.21, ``Why doesn't my sockets program work under System V (Solaris)?''

Randal also has code showing an example socket session for handling the telnet protocol to get a weather report. This can be found at Gene Spafford* has a nice ftp library package that will help with ftp.

5.21) Why do I sometimes get an "Arguments too long" error when I use <*>?

As of perl4.036, there is a certain amount of globbing that is passed out to the shell and not handled internally. The following code (which will, roughly, emulate ``chmod 0644 *'')

    while (<*>) {
        chmod 0644, $_;

is the equivalent of

    open(FOO, "echo * | tr -s ' \t\r\f' '\\012\\012\\012\\012'|");
    while () {
        chmod 0644, $_;

Until globbing is built into Perl, you will need to use some form of non-globbing work around.

Something like the following will work:

    chmod 0644, grep(/\.c$/, readdir(DIR));
    This example is taken directly from ``Programming Perl'' page 78.

If you've installed tcsh as /bin/csh, you'll never have this problem.

5.22) How do I do a "tail -f" in Perl?

Larry says that the solution is to put a call to seek in yourself. First try

        seek(GWFILE, 0, 1);

The statement seek(GWFILE, 0, 1); doesn't change the current position, but it does clear the end-of-file condition on the handle, so that the next makes Perl try again to read something.

If that doesn't work (depends on your stdio implementation), then you need something more like this:

    for (;;) {
	for ($curpos = tell(GWFILE); $_ = ; $curpos = tell(GWFILE)) {
	    # search for some stuff and put it into files
	sleep for a while
	seek(GWFILE, $curpos, 0);

5.23) Is there a way to hide perl's command line from programs such as "ps"?

Generally speaking, if you need to do this you're either using poor programming practices or are far too paranoid for your own good. If you need to do this to hide a password being entered on the command line, recode the program to read the password from a file or to prompt for it. (see question 4.24) Typing a password on the command line is inherently insecure as anyone can look over your shoulder to see it.

If you feel you really must overwrite the command line and hide it, you can assign to the variable ``$0''. For example:

    $0 = "Hidden from prying eyes";

    open(PS, "ps |") || die "Can't PS: $!";
    while () {
        next unless m/$$/;

It should be noted that some OSes, like Solaris 2.X, read directly from the kernel information, instead of from the program's stack, and hence don't allow you to change the command line.

5.24) I {changed directory, modified my environment} in a perl script. How come the change disappeared when I exited the script? How do I get my changes to be visible?

In the strictest sense, it ``can't'' be done. However, there is special shell magic which may allow you to do it. I suggest checking out and reading the comp.unix.questions FAQ.

When perl is started, you are creating a child process. Due to the way the Unix system is designed, children cannot permanently affect their parent shells.

When a child process is created, it inherits a copy of its parents environment (variables, current directory, etc). When the child changes this environment, it is changing the copy and not the original, so the parent isn't affected.

If you must change the parent from within a perl script, you could try having it write out a shell script or a C-shell script and then using ``. script'' or ``source script'' (sh, Csh, respectively)

5.25) How can I use pass a filehandle to a function, or make a list of filehandles?

If you've ever tried to use a variable for a filehandle, you may well have had some problems. This is just revealing one of the icky places in perl: filehandles aren't first-class citizens the way everything else is, and it really gets in the way sometimes.

Of course, it's just fine to say

    $fh = "/some/path";
    open($fh, "< $fh");
    print $fh "string\n";

But you'll still get into trouble for trying:

    $fharray[$i] = "/some/path";
    open($fharray[$i], "< $fharray[$i]");
    print $fharray[$i] "stuff\n";

You can also do this:

    $tmp_fh = $fharray[$i];
    print $tmp_fh "stuff\n";

But this is ok:

    print { $fharray[$i] } "stuff\n";

There are about four ways of passing in a filehandle. The way everyone tries is just to pass it as a string.


Unfortunately, that doesn't work so well, because the package that the printit() function is executing in may in fact not be the one that the handle was opened it:

A simple fix would be to pass it in fully qualified;


because if you don't, the function is going to have to do some crazy thing like this:


    sub printit {
        my $fh = shift;
        my $package = (caller)[0];
        $fh =~ s/^[^':]+$/$package::$&/;
        while (<$fh>) {
    A better solution is to pass a typeglob instead:


    sub printit {
        local *FH = shift;
        while () {

However, it turns out that you don't have to use a typeglob inside the function. This also works:


    sub printit {
        my $fh = shift;
        while (<$fh>) {

As does this even, in case you want to make an object by blessing your reference:


    sub printit {
        my $fh = shift;
        while (<$fh>) {

I used to think that you had to use 1 or preferably 2, but apparently you can get away with number 3 and 4 as well. This is nice because it avoids ever assigning to a typeglob as we do it 2, which is a bit risky.

Some other problems with #1: if you're using strict subs, then you aren't going to be able to do that: the strict subs will gets you. Instead, you'll have to pass in 'main::Some_Handle', but then down in your function, you'll get blown away by strict refs, because you'll be using a string a symbol. So really, the best way is to pass the typeglob (or occasionally a reference to the same).

5.26) How can open a file with a leading ">" or trailing blanks?

Normally perl ignores trailing blanks in filenames, and interprets certain leading characters (or a trailing "|") to mean something special. To avoid this, you might want to use a routine like this. It makes non-fullpathnames into explicit relative ones, and tacks a trailing null byte on the name to make perl leave it alone:

    sub safe_filename {
      local($_) = shift;
      m#^/# ? "$_\0" : "./$_\0";
    $fn = &safe_filename("<<<something really wicked   ");
    open(FH, "> $fn") || "couldn't open $fn: $!";

5.27) How can I tell if a variable is tainted?

This function works reasonably well to figure out whether a variable will be disliked by the taint checks automatically enabled by setuid execution:

    sub tainted {
        ! eval { join('',@_), kill 0; 1; };

and in particular, never does any system calls.

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